Last November, Amazon opened its first bookshop in Seattle. Apparently it’s been a success, selling just a selection of best-selling books at the same prices as available online with reviews posted around the place, recommendations and best-selling lists by genre etc. So all the things about the online Amazon bookstore brought into a physical shop. Independent bookshops have been very negative about Amazon and you can understand why – Amazon are offering a service that many customers prefer and so taking away the potential profit an independent book store can make.
This latest step of actually opening a physical store was akin to rubbing their nose in it.
However, I don’t think Amazon were doing it to blast the small independent bookshops out of existence. They may share some overlap in terms of what they sell but they are totally different businesses.
What is much more interesting is that the physical worlds and the online worlds, in books anyway, are beginning to morph into something that is better for the customer.
John Lewis used to see their online store as just another location, but now have had to fully embrace the fact that people want a mix between the two.
At Purplebricks, we've always seen this morphing as a good thing, even though we fail to see why you need to put your offices on the most expensive locations in the land. When was the last time you heard someone say “Thank goodness for that, there’s a new estate agency opening up on the high street?”
Retail shops have always literally been a shop window but the secret now is all about mixing real people to serve you with a brilliant online platform. In New York, there used to be a Gap on pretty much every street corner (ok – not really true but it seemed like it) and now an awful lot of those shops have closed as people shift their buying online. There’s no need for a clothes retailer to have an expensive shop on lots of street corners any more.
At the same time, it’s not good enough for an online retailer to say you can’t talk to a human being.
A big part of the problem is that people have become fixated on the business model rather than what’s right for the customer.
Delighting in business models, where no human intervention is required, is still prevalent in various ‘tech city’ environments and there are still many conventional businesses that would rather bury their head in the sand when it comes to the power of the internet.
The right answer, as ever, is that the customer will decide what they want over the long term.
Always respect the customer and you won’t go far wrong.